14 relatives killed in raid northeast of Baghdad

Gunmen burst into two houses belonging to a Sunni Muslim family northeast of Baghdad on Thursday, killing 14 relatives, police said. The attack occurred around 1 p.m. local time in the village of Rufayaat, about 5 kilometers east of Balad. Balad is a majority Shi'ite town 80 kilometers northeast of the Iraqi capital, but it is surrounded by territory that is mainly populated by Sunnis. At least 10 gunmen piled into two vehicles broke into the homes, then separated women and children from their male relatives. All 14 victims were men, ranging in age from 15 to 75, a police captain said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about the matter. US troops arrived at the scene afterward, and evacuated a wounded man to an American military hospital, the Iraqi captain said. The US military had no immediate comment. In mid-October, at least 95 people died in a five-day sectarian slaughter in Balad. The Mahdi Army, a Shi'ite militia loyal to anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, was blamed for the killings. Militiamen torched businesses and forced hundreds of residents to flee their homes, in apparent retaliation for the beheading of 17 Shi'ite workers. Tribal, religious and government officials later brokered a 20-day truce in the region of central Iraq, hoping to work through Sunni and Shi'ite grievances during the cooling off period, which ended in November 2006. During that time, US forces stepped up patrols in Balad, home to about 80,000 people.